SHOULD I SEE IT?
Fans of the Transformers franchise will be very curious to see how this prequel of sorts - and first spin-off from the popular series - turns out.
Michael Bay did not direct this. The ticket booth is right over there and the line up starts here.
Surprisingly, Bumblebee is a fun, action flick with a great deal of heart and an overwhelming sense of nostalgia baked right into the crust.
I cannot sit here and promise that everyone who hates Transformers movies will love and appreciate this. Some may find it tedious and trite.
Though steeped in nostalgia and as affable and engaging as any Transformers movie has ever been, for some this movie is going to be an instant “NO” because of the baggage it brings with it.
You are unable and/or unwilling to allow yourself to have fun.
A film franchise built on loud, concussive visual effects and sound design, lascivious ogling of female characters, lascivious incorporation of product placement, incoherent storylines, action scenes which are impossible to follow, idiotic dialogue, offensive and culturally insensitive character portrayals, and disgruntled actors who distance themselves from the movies they were once a part of…
By all means, let’s keep making those movies!
I mean, after all, Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise has grossed more than $3.3 billion dollars in global box office since 2007, and despite (or perhaps, in spite of…) critics panning the films, audiences keep on going and paying top dollar to see the big bang boom tomfoolery of Transformers movies.
Money, as we all know, does not always equate to quality however, and a few of these Transformers movies are simply awful viewing experiences. Joyless, deafening, visually exhausting, sleazy in the way they use women and product placement in much the same way, audiences largely turned away from 2017’s The Last Knight, earning the lowest box office totals in the Bay franchise so far.
So when Bumblebee first become something we learned about, one could perhaps forgive my frustration and outright dismay in seeing that not only are we spinning off stories from the interminable Transformers franchise, we are now creating a cinematic universe with new characters, origin stories, and all the rest.
As it turns out, removing Michael Bay as director of a Transformers project is and was the best move possible.
Bumblebee (and I cannot believe I am saying this…) is a whole lot of fun. Director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) is savvy enough to know how to make action scenes matter, let dialogue be meaningful, and invest in character development.
What a concept.
He also presents his film through the lens of Spielberg-like nostalgia, with Bumblebee feeling a movie that could have potentially been made in 1987 - the year the story is told in.
To Knight’s credit, and screenwriter Christina Hodson’s clever approach, Bumblebee is cheesy when it needs to be, definitely overwrought with sentimentality, but also kind-hearted in tone, well-plotted, and full of amusing, funny, and bittersweet moments which leave you really wanting to have one of these Transformer thingamajigs all to your own.
Knight, along with the terrific Hailee Steinfeld in the leading role, captures the imaginative nature of what makes Transformers toys so uniquely popular in the first place.
As a story, the plot is fairly thin. A young autobot, B-127 (voiced by Dylan O’Brien), is sent to Earth to create a safe haven for fellow autobots to come and strategize next steps in their universal war against their archenemies, the Decepticons. Unfortunately, B-127 crash-lands on Earth, in the woods, directly in front of a secret federal government army of soldiers, led by Agent Burns (John Cena).
B-127’s unceremonious arrival places him directly, and literally, in the crosshairs of Burns and his team. Stranded on Earth, damaged from attacks made from Burns’ men, and from Decepticons who infiltrated Earth’s atmosphere, B-127 eventually finds himself, nearly silenced, sitting in a junkyard, in repose, transformed into a yellow Volkswagen bug.
Enter Charlie (Steinfeld), newly 18, rebuffed yet again by her mother (Pamela Adlon) and new stepfather (Stephen Schneider) when she asks for a new car. Helping out in a nearby junkyard, she expresses her excitement in the Volkswagen and is gifted it for free, as a birthday present from the owner.
In the family garage, Charlie’s curiosity gets the best of her and when looking at the car from below, it inexplicably comes to life and transforms into a massive entity she will eventually come to call “Bumblebee.”
Steinfeld is something special, able to generate chemistry with a 10-foot-tall CGI Transformer, while also carrying significant elements of Bumblebee on her shoulders. She balances comedy, drama, action, and suspense quite impressively, and is re-establishing herself as one of the finest young talents in the business.
Cena maximizes his minutes with a goofy, muscular persona, knocking off some great one-liners and witticisms, while also convincing his team that destroying “Bumblebee” is the necessary action to take. Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. (Love, Simon) is a stumbling, bumbling neighbor with an unrequited crush on Charlie, who wriggles his way into Charlie’s life, and soon finds himself caught up in Charlie, Bumblebee, and the chaos about to envelope all associated.
Though Bumblebee gets mired in minutiae at times and some scenes fall pretty flat, Steinfeld’s vigor in playing this role, coupled with an animator’s eye, affords us a chance to remember that, deep down inside, we are all kids who had that someone or something we played with, and dreamed could come to life and be our companion.
Somewhat remarkably, after 769 minutes and five insufferable movies, it took a young screenwriter and second-time director to finally reach into the heart of the Transformers franchise and get some blood flowing.
Perhaps it will be lost in the shuffle of the holiday movie season; or, alternatively, it may make copious amounts of money in the coming weeks. Know this: Bumblebee is pretty good folks, making it one of 2018’s biggest surprises of the year.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Megyn Price, Rory Markham, Stephen Schneider, Len Cariou.
Featuring the Voices of: Dylan O’Brien, Peter Cullen, Grey Griffin, Angela Bassett, Jason Theroux, David Sobolov.
Director: Travis Knight
Written by: Christina Hodson
Based upon the toy line “Transformers”, created by Hasbro
Release Date: December 21, 2018